Computer Culture?

An oddity from the New Scientist (links added):

Virtual computer characters more accustomed to battling deranged alien monsters are about to take part in a unique social experiment.

The project, known as New and Emergent World models Through Individual, Evolutionary and Social Learning – or NEW-TIES – brings together experts in artificial intelligence, computer science and sociology.

The project will place a thousand agents in a virtual environment, where they will communicate via random words for objects, reproduce, and seek out food to survive. The hope is that a culture may emerge:

Nigel Gilbert, [one] of the project researchers at the University of Surrey, says it would be particularly interesting if the agents were to start using non-functional items in a symbolic way, or develop ritual practices.

I’m doubtful, but it would be fun to see. Can disembodied agents lacking in human imagination and existential reflection really come up with symbols and rituals? Or are rituals and symbols merely a rational way to organise and communicate, not even requiring consciousness for their generation?

Deep stuff…

(via BoingBoing)